April 8, 2016

Three Ways to Fight Through Struggles

Do you know anyone who gets up in the morning, thinks about the day in front of them for a moment and proclaims, “I hope I get a chance to struggle today.” As a parent, do you think about your kids and say, “I sure hope they are challenged today?” Do leaders and coaches look at the teams they are leading and wish for them to experience failure and defeat?

I need to be reminded, sometimes frequently, that the goal of struggling should be growth and improvement—ultimately greater impact. Embracing struggle and the reality of being a work-in-process is not easy or comfortable. In the midst of struggle, the path to victory is fueled by learning how to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

I recently was exposed to a profile test that was designed to identify the traits or characteristics shared by championship caliber professional golfers. What they discovered were eight traits that distinguished championship caliber players. Looking closely at these traits you discover they are weaved together by one common theme—the ability to struggle effectively, to grow comfortable being uncomfortable.

You can develop your ability to struggle like a champion by employing three simple strategies.

  1. Focus on the precious few versus the urgent many. When things get difficult we are drawn towards comfort. Rather than engaging in the struggle, we choose to move towards things we do well or have experience success at in the past. Embrace the struggle. Simplify your approach. Identify the next best step and block off a 30 to 90 minute of time to work on it and repeat.
  2. Grow tough minded and gritty. ”Grit is sticking with your future—day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years — and working really hard to make that future a reality,” according to Angela Duckworth, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania. Tough-minded means being present in the moment of your struggle giving it your full attention and commitment. To grow tough mindedness surround yourself with people who help you through the struggle not take it away or try to remove it—and do the same for the people you love and lead.
  3. Relax and stay calm. Tension is a performance killer. No one needs a medical or psychological proof statement. How you choose to respond to stress is the key. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford University, has found that when you change your mind about stress, you can literally change your body's physical reaction to it. In an eight year study, adults who experienced a "lot of stress" and who believed stress was harmful to their health had a 43% increase in their risk of dying. However, people who experienced an equal amount of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die.

I love watching The Masters. The course, scenery, and atmosphere define beauty and comfort. The competition and rise and fall of emotion scream struggle. Ultimately the victor will have struggled—sometimes mightily. Personal growth and the pursuit of great goals always travels through struggle. The winner will ultimately describe how they managed to find comfort with discomfort swirling all around them. They will describe how their ability to focus, grind through the event, and a sense of calm were instrumental to rising above the struggle.

Embrace the struggle. On the other side you will find yourself equipped to increase your personal and professional impact. Struggle is normal—let it refine you but not define you.

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